Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Moderation is only relative, after all // Neerja Chowdhury - BJP’s Cocktail For 2014 // Ruchi Gupta: More than secularism’s at risk

Given the way Indian politics pans out, it would be naive to believe that the remarks of Naqvi or Giriraj Singh or Togadia, or earlier of Amit Shah were off the cuff comments. 

NB: Modi has reportedly 'disapproved' of 'irresponsible' statements.  Let us note that he 'disapproves', but does not condemn - while the rest of us are regularly expected to condemn various bad things that are said or done. Further, he says the statements are 'irresponsible' - not objectionable, morally reprehensible or criminal. Or that they violate the Indian Constitution. 'Irresponsible', that's all, I suppose because they are inconvenient. In contrast to this gang, Modi can now appear to be a moderate figure. But aren't they all honoured members of the Sangh Parivar? It has invented a fine Algebra of the Sliding Scale of moderation - lets call it ASS, to remember what we are making of ourselves. This brilliant cartoon below says it all - DS

(Cartoon from page 6, Mail Today April 23, 2014)

BJP’s Cocktail For 2014: As polling nears its end, party members and friends veer round to sowing divisiveness and hate - Neerja Chowdhury 

It is curious that in the second half of the 2014 election campaign BJP, which is supposedly racing towards victory and which relied on development and decisive leadership as its poll themes, should go back to its old, worn-out Hindutva song to sharpen polarisation around Hindu-Muslim lines. First, there was BJP candidate Giriraj Singh whose statement – those who did not support Modi “will have no place in India because their place will be in Pakistan” – went beyond usual poll-time hate rhetoric. Seen as a warning to Muslims, such a mindset has implications for a democratic polity like ours. If Giriraj Singh were to have his way what would happen to the 271 MPs who come to get elected on the basis of anti-Modi sentiment, if Modi’s “272 Mission” fructifies? Get a “desh nikala”? 

BJP brass has rebuked Giriraj Singh but worry persists about the role differences and dissent would have in the Modi dispensation. This by no means exonerates the hate rhetoric on the other side – statements by Congress candidate Imran Masood in Saharanpur about chopping up Modi, or the vitriolic remarks made repeatedly by an unrepentant Azam Khan. 

After Giriraj Singh came Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. He raked up the temple issue which had been relegated to the back page of BJP’s manifesto as a tokenist homage to hardliners. And now there are reports of Praveen Togadia’s shocking diatribe calling on Hindus to force eviction of Muslims from their homes. It has naturally generated an outcry and provoked the Election Commission to order registration of a case against the VHP leader. 

Suddenly, the Hindu-Muslim divide has taken centre stage in the poll discourse. Given the way Indian politics pans out, it would be naive to believe that the remarks of Naqvi or Giriraj Singh or Togadia, or earlier of Amit Shah were off the cuff comments. Are these just instances of individuals getting carried away and BJP brass distancing itself from them? Or do they betray an anxiety, a nervousness in the BJP camp? Is it an indication of a killer instinct to push towards a majority figure, using every trick in the book to get there? Or is BJP, which seemed to be reincarnating into a party of issues rather than of emotions, showing its true colours? And is this a foretaste of things to come? 

BJP has played four cards in the campaign in varying degrees – development, strong leadership, OBC factor and Hindu-Muslim polarisation. When the Narendra Modi campaign kicked off, the emphasis was on ‘development’. The Gujarat CM was packaged as the new “vikas purush”. Such was the campaign offensive mounted about him and the “Gujarat model”, surpassing mobilisation around the Ram-Janmabhoomi movement, with rallies, 3D meetings, video raths carrying Modi’s message, ad campaigns, social media going viral with his views, its impact was summed up in the words of a Mumbai ‘UP bhaiyya’ taxiwalla, “Our people are saying, this time let us try Modi. ‘They’ say he has done something in Gujarat.” 

Politics is after all about perception. The development mantra had traction with the youth and made those who shunned BJP in the past but were angered by Congress’s arrogance of power look at Hindutva’s poster boy with new eyes. The second slogan about the need for a “strong leader” also resonated with the urban middle class which influences almost 200 Lok Sabha seats today. BJP played the OBC card with effect in the Hindi belt, propagating the possibility of the first ever OBC prime minister in Modi. It tied up with the Kurmi-dominated Apna Dal in UP and fielded as many as 27 OBC candidates in the state. 

In Bihar, it appears to have dented Nitish Kumar’s following among the extremely backward castes (known as “Annexure I” communities who add up to over 30% of the population). 

When Amit Shah made his remarks about taking “revenge” through the ballot, it was clearly aimed at sharpening polarisation in western UP along Hindu-Muslim lines, which had taken place in the area following Jat-Muslim violence in Muzaffarnagar. Muslims were divided thanks to Mulayam Singh Yadav, who played on their fears that Mayawati was “Modi’s younger sister” who could go with BJP again and that they would have to deal with his regime in Lucknow for the next three years. 

People were buying into the universalist message put out by Modi. Given the mood for change, many are looking at him as the alternative. And yet BJP has obviously felt the need for the extra push in the penultimate poll rounds – which it calculates can come only via the polarisation route, though pushed beyond a point there is always the risk of Hindus counter-reacting. The mother of all battles is being fought in UP and Bihar, which will make or mar Modi’s fortunes. The recent spate of extreme statements by VHP and BJP leaders shows that BJP now wants to consolidate Hindu votes to go for the kill in the land of the Ganga. They may or may not yield more votes. But they – as also Muslim statements in reaction – leave the polity and society more sharply – and dangerously – divided on religious lines even before the elections are over. 


Ruchi Gupta: More than secularism’s at risk
A mistake of liberals in these elections is that they have framed the public discourse primarily around secularism.While pertinent given Narendra Modi's antecedents, it's self-limiting: it speaks to minority interest in a framework where numbers matter and preaches to the converted in the majority community. In contrast, Modi invokes people's personal aspirations when he thunders about stalling growth. Ignored in this discourse is the social conservatism agenda of BJP affiliates. This is significant because their values are antithetical to the freedom aspired by much of India's population, 65% of which is under 35 years. Hindu fundamentalists are already emboldened by Modi's rise. VHP president Pravin Togadia reportedly targeted a Muslim house in Bhavnagar to intimidate Muslims buying houses in Hindu areas. No action has been taken by the Modi-led Gujarat government yet.

However, secularism is not the only casualty of Modi's ascent. An equal danger is parochial goons being set loose with state sanction to do moral policing. Modi is campaigning on a plank of economic liberalism; personal freedom is an automatic corollary for many of his supporters. But one only needs to look at the political forces behind Modi to see the fallacy of this assumption. Yet these forces will play a decisive role in shaping the national agenda were Modi to come into power.

RSS, the parent organisation of BJP, does not have a single woman office bearer - unsurprising, given the misogynistic views of its head Mohan Bhagwat. At a time of national fulmination over women's security, Bhagwat provided sage insight into the cause of rape, elucidating, "Where Bharat becomes 'India' with the influence of western culture, these types of incidents happen." Such statements betray deep discomfort with increased agency of women in urban milieus and show callous disregard for rape in rural areas to oppress lower-caste women. Sushma Swaraj, BJP's most powerful woman, likened a raped woman to a "zinda lash", reinforcing societal prejudice. Shiv Sena, BJP's longstanding ally, routinely makes news by terrorising couples, especially on Valentine's Day. BJP's comfort level with such behaviour was evident when its Karnataka unit recently inducted Pramod Muthalik, chief of Sri Ram Sena whose karyakartas charged into a pub to beat up women for going against Hindutva values (he was later dropped).

Predictably same sex relationships go against Hindu values too. Yoga guru Ramdev and BJP share a symbiotic relationship in their quest for political power. He has called homosexuality a "disease", likened it to bestiality, saying, "Tomorrow they will talk of having sex with animals."  Petitioners against the Delhi High Court order which decriminalised homosexuality include late B P Singhal, former Rajya Sabha member from BJP and brother of former VHP chief Ashok Singhal, and Ramdev's spokesperson S K Tizarawala. BJP President Rajnath Singh has said his party "unambiguously" endorses re-criminalisation of gay sex. The RSS mouthpiece Organiser called the Supreme Court decision which re-criminalised homosexuality a "milestone in preserving the values of the country".

A new inductee into the NDA alliance is S Ramadoss led PMK which consolidated intermediate caste groups in Tamil Nadu against Dalits, on a platform which includes opposition to inter-caste marriage with Dalits. PMK is also believed to be behind the attacks in Dharmapuri in which hundreds of Dalit homes were set afire in the aftermath of a marriage between a Dalit boy and a Vanniyar girl.

The Sangh prefers not to create overt fissures in its consolidated Hindu identity and mobilises against "love jihad", marriages between Muslim boys and Hindu girls. Modi has chosen to keep silent on these issues, sensing the inherent contradictions between his political affiliates and sections of his support base. He is of course being opportunistic, but it is not clear with whom: his supporters or his compatriots? Some indication of his views can be gleaned on two counts: Gujarat remains the only large state in the country where consumption of alcohol is illegal. Given that the law is openly flouted and serves only as a tool for harassment is reason enough to have repealed it. The fact that he hasn't is indicative either of moral judgment or pressures from the Sangh.

Second, after it was revealed that the Gujarat state machinery was used to snoop on a civilian woman, the baffling defence mounted by BJP - presumably with Modi's agreement - was that the surveillance was at the behest of the woman's father - an argument that divests an adult woman of agency and right to privacy. Modi is running an extremely personalised campaign, wherein the solution to all that ails India is to be found in "Modi ki sarkar". However he will necessarily draw from the above groups to populate his government. These groups will use state power to set a restrictive social agenda and provide patronage to the misguided vigilantes who will enforce it. It's time to question Modi on what he will do then. It's unlikely he will be able to stop them since they are instrumental in his ascent. So even while most Hindus brush aside the question of secularism, are they as sanguine about the threat to their personal freedom as well?